Using Dwarf Conifers in the Landscape

Beach walkThe Barefoot Gardener has donned her rubber boots since old man winter has appeared.

And, now that the leaves have fallen and our gardens are mostly bare, it is a great time to begin thinking about making changes in the garden. Winter exposes those holes in the garden that we fill up with annual or perennial color in the summer. Maybe it is time to fill those holes and what better type of plant to use than dwarf conifers.

Smaller growing conifers can be worked in to just about any size garden. They provide solid green or sometimes gold color when other plants have lost their leaves or are not that attractive in the winter. These are a great choice for smaller gardens when space is at a premium or they can be used in containers too.

First, Assess where there are spaces for new plants or where some plants have not fared so well and need to me moved or removed. Determine the amount of space you have to fill and what the exposure is. Then do some research on the type and size of plant you are looking for.

Chamaecyapris m. 'Wilma'

Chamaecyapris m. ‘Wilma’ in my front garden. These are about 5′ tall at the moment

This evergreen can actually reach 8′ or so but, can be managed to 5 or 6′ if necessary. Here Chamaecyparis macrocarpa ‘Wilma’ or ‘Goldcrest’ adds a vibrant gold-green to the garden as well as a vertical element.

Chamaecyparis macrocarpa 'Wilma'

Chamaecyparis macrocarpa ‘Wilma’ in a mixed perennial border

Here is a newly planted (3 gallon size) Wilma in a clients garden, so you can see how they fill out with maturity.

Pinus strobus 'Nana'

Pinus strobus ‘Nana’ – Dwarf White Pine (photo courtesy

This is one of my favorite dwarf conifers–Pinus strobus ‘Nana’. It is a soft needled pine and provides a grey green color to the garden. It is easily managed with a trimming in spring if you want to keep it at a certain size. It will get up to 4′ if you were to let it go, but, it does so slowly.

Picea abies ‘Papoose’ is another that will fit into smaller gardens and has interesting grey-green needles so it stands out in the garden. It grows very slowly so will, most likely, will never need any pruning.

Picea abies 'Papoose'

Picea abies ‘Papoose’ – Dwarf Spruce

Here, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’ is placed  along a dry stream bed to soften the rock work and not get too large for this rather small front garden.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana'

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’ – Dwarf Hinoki Cypress

Tsuga Gentsch White

Tsuga ‘Gentsch White’ – Dwarf Hemlock (photo credit Iseli)

Most coniferous evergreens need mostly sun to thrive in a garden setting but, if you have a partly shady or full, light shade, this variety fits the bill. This is Tsuga ‘Gentsch White’. It grows slowly to about 3′ tall and has a somewhat open habit. It’s needles have a whitish tinge to them so you get this “frosted” effect year-round.

Happy planning!

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